3. HOW WILL AUBURN REPLACE ANTONIO COLEMAN? CAN THEY?
In one sense, the answer to this question is blindingly obvious: Antoine Carter will replace Antonio Coleman. He’ll take over as the primary rush end, Michael Goggans will retake his starting spot on the other end, hole filled.
And frankly, no one’s going to do that for Auburn in 2010. A fully healthy Carter with a quality spring and full fall camp under his belt has the talent to doing a lot of it; we’ve known that for years and were reminded down the stretch last season, when his meniscus finally let him back on the field and he promptly stole away the starting spot Goggans had held for the better part of two seasons. But is he going to do all of it? No. (Well, probably no.) Antonio Coleman was too much player for one other player to reproduce.
It’s going to take, as the saying goes, a village of defensive ends. Not just Carter but …
Goggans. The Alexander City native* first took over as a starting defensive end at the beginning of his sophomore year, and between then and now he’s had his moments. But there have been an awful lot of moments that weren’t his, either, where Goggans just faded into the background and went entire halves without making any noticeable contributions. Last year’s tally: 1 sack, 2.5 TFLs. Which is why Carter wound up the starter at the end of the year.
But if it seems too late for Goggans to explode into a star, he has the experience and the coaching to become a solid, steady operator opposite Carter. Chip in a few sacks here, a few tackles-for-loss there, and Auburn will be fine.
Dee Ford. The book on Ford as a true freshman was that he would be able to offer some immediate help on the pass rush but was too light to stand up against the run, and as it turned out–whaddya know–Ford was able to offer some immediate help on the pass rush but was too light to stand up against the run. He finished the year with one sack and 7 QB hurries but saw his third-down pass specialist role reduced as the season went on and disappeared from potential running downs almost entirely.
With a year of Yoxall-supervised strength-and-conditioning behind him and a move towards 3-4 sets that seem perfectly geared for Ford’s skill set, the odds seem good Ford will make a return to third downs at the very least. Another half-dozen sacks out of him in that role, and Auburn’s golden.
Nosa Eguae. Arguably the biggest anticlimax of the 2009 season was the no-show from “Everybody Loves” Nosa. As you know: after hearing a thousand glowing reports from fall camp, Eguae seemed slotted as a major rotation member until he hurt his foot just ahead of the season opener, missed the next several weeks, and eventually redshirted. He already appears to be right back on the second team this spring and with his true freshman season completed already, we should be able to see what all the fuss is about over the next couple of weeks. Assuming Eguae is what we think he is, there’s another handful of TFLs waiting here.
Craig Sanders. He’s probably got a little bit of work ahead of him to overtake the players above, and if it happens it’ll happen in the fall rather than these next couple of weeks. But hey–the guy’s got the recruiting rep, the raw size, the work ethic, and now the benefit of spring camp. If a true freshman could break through, he seems like a good bet.
So: one person replacing Antonio Coleman? Not happening. All four of the above, plus the additions of Bonomolo and Lemonier in the fall? Could very well happen. But whether it will or not will be determined starting now. How explosive is Goggans? Has Ford lost any of his speed in the attempt to bulk up? Has his pass-rush repertoire gotten more polished? Is Carter really totally over his meniscus injury? The foot hasn’t taken anything away from Eguae’s motor, has it?
If Auburn gets the right answers to all those questions this spring, it’ll bode very, very well for cushioning–or even shrugging off entirely–the blow of Coleman’s departure.
*Tallapoosa County repreSENT.